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Mark Daniels is a cancer survivor who dropped everything when he learned he had cancer, and decided to focus on what made him happy. As a result he returned to his passion for drumming and co-founded Cubafiesta, a not-for-profit organization that will be holding events in Cuba and funds raised will go toward the establishment of a neo-natal service at the main hospital in Holguin. (Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Mark Daniels is a cancer survivor who dropped everything when he learned he had cancer, and decided to focus on what made him happy. As a result he returned to his passion for drumming and co-founded Cubafiesta, a not-for-profit organization that will be holding events in Cuba and funds raised will go toward the establishment of a neo-natal service at the main hospital in Holguin. (Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Beating the drum for Cuban kids Add to ...

Mark Daniels, 55, co-founder, CubaFiesta, Toronto



When you first meet Mark Daniels, you expect to encounter the construction-industry businessman he has been for most of his 55 years. A few minutes into the conversation, you realize he is anything but. Two years ago, this cancer survivor dropped everything to pursue a passion for drumming (which meant taking classes with 12-year-olds), ended up in Cuba, and is now focused on building a neonatal wing for the Pediatric Hospital of Holguin (which serves more than four million people) in the eastern part of the island nation.

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Motivating factor

“Meeting Joaquin Hidalgo, master drummer. He gave me a lesson in conga drumming in Toronto in 2009, and we began to play together. In May, 2011, a group of 12 [dancers and musicians]went to Joaquin’s hometown, Holguin, and we came up with the idea of putting together an international music festival in Cuba. We were sitting on the bus and stopped at a light when I saw an unsigned building and asked what it was.

“I was shocked to learn that it was the pediatric hospital. It looked nothing like a hospital. We had already talked about doing something for the community Joaquin was born in, and once we found out they did not have a much-needed neonatal wing, we decided that was it.”

First step

“We met with Alexi Triana Hernandez of the Ministry of Culture and explained how we wanted to create CubaFiesta, an international music festival. Watching his eyes light up … we knew that we could be doing something truly life-changing for many children.”

Success

“Bringing Canadian hospital know-how to Cuba through a twinning program and relevant exchanges of education, upgrading of facilities, new medical technology, and the training of staff to use and maintain the equipment.”

Aha! moment

“We were told by ‘experts’ that it would take two to six months to get a letter of intent signed with the Cuban government. We did it in two days!”

Describe yourself

“I am a getting-involved kind of guy. I act with my heart, inducing excitement and colour in what I do, yet I still remain true to my business background: Be on time, on budget, and deliver results.”

Personal hero

“Richard Branson. He takes on projects that seem impossible and he pulls them off with great flare and success. That willingness to believe that you can make a real difference, regardless of the odds, is very inspiring.”

Challenge

“Convincing corporate Canada to invest in the festival, reap the benefits of a new market, and help children in Holguin.”

Any doubts?

“Yes, weekly. An international music festival is hard to produce anywhere; but we just keep our eye on the final goal: Try to raise more money than it costs to hold the festival so we can do good work.”

What keeps you going?

“Lots of music, laughter and great people.”

This interview has been condensed and edited

Farah Mohamed is president & CEO of the G(irls)20 Summit. Send suggestions for Action Figure to livebetter@globeandmail.com.

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